Pearl River Festival
Sunday, September 25, 2011, 12:26 PMI'm with Luke Wright and Aoife Mannix on a British Council visit to China. Here are some things I have learnt:
Canton Tower is no longer the highest tower in the world. Here we are, 436 metres up - I laughed the whole time, just like on a rollercoaster.
We just spent four days in Guangzhou, in Guangdong Province. You can fit the UK into Guangdong Province.
Today we flew West to Chengdu in Sezchuan Province, smaller than Guangzhou, with an estimated 14 million people living in the city.
People in Guangzhou have the reputation of being down-to-earth and efficient. Many women don't wear make-up and you can often see people out in their pajamas. I put this to the test today by travelling from Guangzhou to Chengdu in my pajamas and indeed, no-one in Guangzhou batted an eye.
Here is a wish-tree in Foshan. You have to throw your wish into the tree, the higher up, the luckier. You can buy different wishes - Luke bought that he hoped his children would carry on learning after they leave school and I bought that I wish for good health and fortune for my family.
The number four is an unlucky number because it sounds like the word for death. Fourteen is also unlucky. They put the swimmming pool on the fourth floor of the hotels and Westerners on the 14th. When we checked in tonight, they put Aoife and Luke on the fourteenth (though they checked with them that that was alright) and they put me on the nineteenth.
People jammer away at me in Chinese which makes me really happy. Although a Colombian man did start talking to me in Spanish today in the lift.
Cantonese food is the best in the world.
Sezchuan food is the best in the world.
You cannot go on twitter or facebook, the firewall is called the Great Wall.
Amongst the students in Guangzhou, there was a hungry curiousity for spoken word - some of the more daring ones said they would facebook friend us. How? 'We know where to climb over the wall.'
Guangzhou felt so familiar to me, the trees, the food, the way people spoke and talked and dressed.
Sezchuan feels very foreign.
The cities are considered close but it took over a couple of hours to fly by plane.
We went out tonight to eat on our own. The restaurants didn't have pictures on the menus. They didn't have menus. We found a place where a teenage waiter had studied English at school. He had to google soy sauce when Luke asked for it. 'Sorry Sir, this is a Chinese restuarant, we don't have soy sauce here.' He kept shaking his head when we pointed to food other people were eating. 'That is very hot.' We ate a huge and delicious meal of hot sour fish stew, spinach and beef with peppers, washed down with a very good beer called Snow. We left him what amounted to £2 or 20% of the bill as a tip and he came rushing out, offered the money with both hands and a nod, as is the custom. 'You forgot your money.' 'No, that's for you, because you helped us so much.' 'For me? For me?'
People are kind here. They have treated us with humour and patience. Not just Susan and Grace and the folks at the British Council, who have been so hospitable and courteous that we felt like honoured guests, not dusty jobbing poets, but the woman at the bus stop and the customs official and the family outside the dim sum place.
Susan and Grace standing either side of Ip Man, Bruce Lee's Wing Chun teacher.
I'm going to post now, in case the internet fails again and I lose everything like i just did.
More tomorrow. Here's the view from my room tonight.
Friday, September 23, 2011, 04:15 PMAt the School of Computer Science, Nottingham University is the Mixed Reality Lab, a 'dedicated studio facility where computer scientists, psychologists, sociologists, engineers, architects and artists collaborate to explore the potential of ubiquitous, mobile and mixed reality technologies to shape everyday life.'
Inside, it's a bit like Q's research lab, but in an alternate universe where MI6 are not a group of sociopathic spies but a crack-team of inventors in ruthless pursuit of social connectivity and the deeper knowledge of what it means to be human in the 21st century.
Steve Benford, who runs the lab, showed us round. Apart from the weird ergonomic contraptions, the giant robotic toys, the strange machines, there was a remarkable installation of a table, filled with around sixty dirty coffee mugs. Steve took us to the coffee-machine, which had it's own twitter feed. You select your coffee, the machine dispenses it and then tweets a snarky comment about your choice. While we were getting coffee, a man in overalls came in, looked at the table and radioed maintenance that there was a mug situation at the Mixed Reality Lab. Another man came down with a trolley and they took the mugs away. They nodded to us pleasantly.
Marc Boothe had told me about the MRL and the things they do, but I couldn't quite get my head round it. When the time came to leave, I had fallen in love with the place. I can't wait to go back.
I'm going to be doing a residency there, starting this Autumn, to work out the interactive story-telling bits of LondonTales So, the big, exciting bit. I'm so hugely excited. It's going to be a fair old commute, back and forth from London to Nottingham and of course, time away from the family, but it's going to be so so worth it.
Here's Steve Benford standing outside the lab. He is AWESOME.
Thursday, September 8, 2011, 02:47 PMThe hotel is in the 18th arrondisement, a slope down from the sex shops and Le Moulin Rouge. It is boutique, fourteen or so rooms. The stairwell smells of stale spunk on velvet.*
There are no numbers on the doors. I must examine and memorise the pictures on the corridor outside my room. The picture to the left of my door is of a peroxide blonde poking a nipple into the mouth of a sleeping man. The picture to my right has the model’s head thrown back, face obscured by Japanese hair.
I meet P and he comes back to the room. As we walk through the chic café that serves as a lobby, the concierge nods appraisingly. We walk up the stairs. I point out the smell, the lack of door numbers. P remarks on the pictures.
The room is dark blue. There are monochromatic bondage prints above the desk and a tiny, curved bath. There is a large white bed and two floor to ceiling windows, looking out onto a courtyard, filled with a tree whose elegant branches extend the air into architecture. Beyond, ivied walls shimmer in the wind. We sit on the bed. P takes out his guitar. We run through the set. The music forms a tender and invincible bubble through which time flows without regard for the digital clock/ipod dock/radio alarm on the bedside table.
We finish, magically, at the appointed time to meet Anais and Jemma from Shakespeare and Co. The concierge looks up at his screen and smirks as we exit out into sunshine and menus and kissing on both cheeks.
At the Trianon, I shake hands with the technical crew and know I will only remember the English-sounding names.
I find P upstairs in the luxurious, apartment-style green rooms, writing a poem out in dry-wipe marker. His writing is shockingly familiar.
'I’m going to get a soy latte,’ I announce, interruptingly.
‘Ah. Ok. Soy? Where from?’
‘There’s a Starbucks at Pigalle.’
‘There's a Starbucks at Pigalle?’
‘Do you want anything?'
‘Right. I don't want anything. I need to go. I’m nervous.’
‘Yeah. Always. Not you?’
‘No. I get lonely. I’m the guy that’s got to go clean up Chernobyl.’
I stay. We open small bottles of Evian, take gulps, place them down on tables filled with other half-full bottles of Evian. I decide I really am going to go, but then the guy comes to do a podcast for the Guardian.
‘Can we do it together?’
He is nice and funny and we talk and laugh with him at length, even though we both know from painful previous experience that we will individually come out sounding like a pair of tossers.
Backstage, I pace my rituals. P warms up his voice for the accapella. We hug before we go on. I don't know how it feels for him, but for me, it is not enough. I want to crawl under his skin and disappear. I don't know what I could have been thinking, it must have seemed like a good idea, but all the reasons for that are now not forthcoming. One thing is true - it is going to happen, it will pass.
I get up onstage and look into the lit-up faces of the audience and remember,
'Oh, it's you, it's you! Look, listen, there's this thing I reeeeally want to tell you...'
The detail is astonishing. It is durational, but not from left to right. I was wrong. The truth is, everything happens now.
I come off stage for P's set and he does the songs that undo me. I wonder how it will be to get on stage like this, without a face, to do the improvisation and the duets, but of course, it is perfect.
At the end of the gig, I thank Marc the lighting guy and Nicolas the spark but not the outstanding sound engineer whose name is Joachim. We hang around, back-stage, front of house, in the lobby, for P, for Jemma, for Anais, for Carmela, for the guy with the cds, for book money, for me, for P. Then, at quarter to midnight, we sit down at a long table, for dinner. I drink a carafe of red wine very fast. No-one really eats the food.
There is a taxi, which P runs for. It is hard to get cabs in the 18th, at night and he has a slew of press for ‘My Wilderness’ the next day.** I need to be in Covent Garden at 1030 BST. Anais walks me back to the hotel. It is 2am but I want to carry on feeling tiny after-shocks of connection and presentness. I ask the young guy at the desk where to buy cigarettes. He tells me there is a tabac at Pigalle.
‘I don’t want to go to Pigalle.’ I say.
‘Do you like Lucky Strike?’
‘Sure. Thanks. Will you come outside and smoke with me?’
We sit on the bench outside the hotel. He asks me what I’m doing in Paris. I tell him
I’m from London, I had a gig tonight with Piers Faccini, I did a spoken word set, he played some songs, then we played together, did some improvised stuff…
He wants to be a writer.
He left his job in tv to experience life, to meet people. This hotel is very chic, there are a lot of artists, interesting guests. It is famous because you can also rent the rooms for an hour, during the day, for sex. He asks me which room I’m in and I tell him 102. Jemma requested that my room be not too extreme. He nods, yes, there is nothing in that room, some of the rooms are extreme, there is a - I don’t catch this, but I think – giant model of the owner’s cock in one room. He says that it is quite disconcerting to be confronted with it every now and then.
‘This is the guy who pays me, you know’.
He says he can’t write yet, because he has had no suffering, his life has been normal, lucky, uneventful. His favourite writer is Bukowski.
'Bukowski really lived', he says.
I tell him he doesn’t have to experience pain, it is enough to observe, with honesty. I urge him to start tonight, something short. Despite the gig having gone well, despite the fact that earlier, people listened to me, at this point, I become unconvincing. He politely says he might but I can see he won’t.
The next morning, I see him sitting on the same bench. He waves goodbye and I tell him that I am going to write about him on this blog.
Young concierge/writer guy, If you are reading this, I forgot to say, save your pain for when loneliness irradiates your bones. Those times where you wander through hours, days, weeks like departure lounges, sick with choice, unable to leave. I wish you a lucky, uneventful life of writing. If you can deal with the occasional fear and fall-out, it's the best job in the world.
* Years ago, we went to sex clubs in Paris for shitz and giggles. Maybe one day, I will write a story about it.
** To hear a track from P's new album "My Wilderness' (released 26th September)
(Please do listen to the track 'My Wilderness'. I did some lyrics on this track - have no memory of it, but P,very generously, has given me a writing credit, so I'm banking on it becoming a global mega-hit. And then Alvin and the Chipmunks will do a cover version of it and Manchester United will rebrand and use it as their new anthem. And then all my worries will be over.)
In case you are in Paris on Wednesday and in need of this kind of thing...
Monday, September 5, 2011, 12:00 AM
A few spaces left on this Arvon week for Write Out Loud...
Thursday, August 18, 2011, 08:52 PMI'm co-facilitating workshops at Arvon's Lumb Bank this November with Julian Jordan who is responsible for the on-line poetry phenomenon 'Write Out Loud.' These weeks are always intense and amazing, do come if you can. Here's the blurb...
An inspiring poetry course – at Ted Hughes’ old house.
Writing Out Loud – 14th - 19th November, 2011
Once Ted Hughes’ house, Lumb Bank is an 18th century mill owner’s house in twenty acres of woodland, in a striking Pennine landscape of rivers, fine stone houses and weavers’ cottages, packhorse trails and old ruins.
Be inspired and learn new techniques with other poets of various levels and interests – on this unique, Monday-to-Saturday, intensive-but-fun course run in partnership between Arvon and Write Out Loud, home of the UK's leading open-mic poetry website.
Here is a your big chance to take your writing further, as well as giving you top coaching in how to bring out the best from yourself and your words as you read or perform your poetryYou will receive guidance and tuition in writing, selecting and editing for reading out loud; and improving how you perform your work. There will be group work, individual coaching, and chance to showcase your work on Friday evening.
The tutors are the “Queen of Performance Poetry” Francesca Beard who has run workshops right across the globe, Write Out Loud founder, slam and open-mic veteran, professional writer and publisher, Julian Jordon; and visiting tutor Elvis McGonagall of Radio 4 fame, on Wednesday evening.
This course is generously subsidised (by Arvon and Arts Council) at £385 for an all-found week (all tuition, accommodation and excellent food). The subsidy is for Write Out Loud members (you simply need to be registered on our website). That’s around £200 less than their usual fees.
£100 deposit needed, refundable if we can fill your place. Send a cheque with full names, address, contact telephone, dietary or other requirements to Julian Jordon, Arvon Bookings, Write Out Loud, 7 Warehouse Hill, Marsden HD7 6AB. We will accept email reservations providing the cheque follows by post please.
The course is only open to people aged 18+
Venue: The Ted Hughes Arvon Centre at Lumb Bank
Heptonstall, Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire HX7 6DF
Tel/Fax: 01422 843714